He claims not to put too much stock in numbers. But heading into last night's contest against the Edmonton Oilers, Minnesota Wild winger Marian Gaborik needed one goal to reach the 30-goal plateau for the fifth time in his career.
"During the season I really don't think about it," Gaborik said, before the game, unaware yet he would remain at 29 after a 4-2 Oilers' win
"I just try and go play every game as hard as I can. I don't try to think about numbers. If you do that, you're just going to squeeze the stick a little harder and then it's tough getting the puck to go in."
The only player left from the Wild's original expansion team, Gaborik was Minnesota's first pick - third overall - in the 2000 NHL Entry draft. He led the Wild in scoring going into the game against the Oilers with 29 goals and 28 assists - 10 points ahead of Pierre-Marc Bouchard who's second on the team's scoring list. The native of Trencin, Slovakia, is also among the top goal-scorers in the league.
"He's so dangerous," said Wild head coach Jacques Lemaire.
"He's going to get a loose puck, he's going to get a pass in the offensive zone. Inside the circle, around that net, he's got quick hands and good release, that's what makes him such a good scorer."
Gaborik first scored 30 goals in his second year with the Wild, achieving the benchmark in 78 games.
He scored 30 again the following season suiting up in 81 games.
After the lockout, Gaborik came back with the strongest goal-scoring season of his career, finding the net 38 times in 65 games.
He followed that year with another 30-goal effort in an injury-riddled season that limited him to 48 games. This season he's on pace to set a new personal best.
"I think I'm a streaky guy," Gaborik said. "You want to be as consistent as possible out there to try and get those goals. When they're coming for me, they come in bunches, so hopefully that happens often.
"When it's coming, it's coming for you. When you're hot everything you throw at the net seems to go in for you. When you're cold, you try to different things to get the puck in the net."
That certainly was the case back on Dec. 20th, when Gaborik scored five goals in a 6-3 win against the New York Rangers, a feat that had not been accomplished in 11 years. It leads one to believe 50 is not beyond the realm of possibility if he's able to stay healthy for an entire season. That would probably put him in the same breath as goal scorers Alexander Ovechkin and Ilya Kovalchuk
"I've always said the he could probably get 50," Lemaire said.
"They (Ovechkin and Kovalchuk) may be stronger with the puck than Gabby, but he's got that quick release that a lot of goaltenders get surprised by. He finds a way to get it at the net, it could be low, it could be high, he shoots everywhere."
Now in his seventh season, Gaborik would have to have an amazing last third of the year to get near the mark. But next season he could have a legitimate shot at it if all goes well.
"Anything is possible, but I don't try to think about it and try not to put too much pressure on myself," he said. "I just want to go out there and do what I'm capable of and if I do that, the goals are going to come."
It's his goals that have helped the Wild stay near the top of the Northwest division all season. In their eight-year franchise history, the Wild have never won a division title. "That would be huge, but our division, it's so close," Gaborik said.
"You win a couple of games and you think you're going to be able to pull away and then you see other teams are winning too. Our division is close, so is our conference, so it'll be big if we win it."